New Haven pastor calls on city leaders to declare racism a public health crisis

New Haven

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — A local pastor is calling on New Haven city leaders to declare racism a public health crisis. The move comes as several cities across the state have voted on a similar declaration.

Pastor Kelcey Steele from the Varick Memorial AME Zion Church says this is not a new declaration, rather this is an opportunity for the city to not just recognize racism as an issue in the city, but to work to address some of the systems that keep racial inequity alive.

RELATED: Hartford, Bloomfield latest to declare racism as a public health crisis, New Britain set to meet on decision

In the last couple of weeks, Windsor, Hartford, and Bloomfield have all declared racism a public health crisis. New Britain and West Hartford are set to do the same.

This comes on the heels of a national outcry and demands for justice over the killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery.

Pastor Steele says people of color have long been subjected to violence and inequality. He adds New Haven is not exempt from racial injustice.

“It just brings an awareness to all of us that we need to be conscious of our prejudices,” he said.

The letter also calls for more police accountability when it comes to dealing with police brutality and the allocation of protected funds to support the health and well-being of the Black community of New Haven.

RELATED: Board of Police Commissioners votes to fire a New Haven officer seen on body camera video kicking suspect in handcuffs

“I feel that declaring it a health crisis will cause us to not only raise up the Black consciousness but the White consciousness and I always say that this problem will not be eradicated until everybody is outraged by the effects of racism,” Pastor Steele told News 8.

The pastor added, “since Juneteenth, the mayor issued a proclamation in order to make it an official holiday — that was good. They issued a decree to take down the racist statues all over the city, that was excellent, and the police commission terminated one of their own due to racism and aggressive force — that was good. I feel we need to put racism where it should be. We should classify it as unsanitary.”

News 8 caught up with Mayor Justin Elicker on the proposed declaration Tuesday evening. He said, “I think the most important thing is not the declaration itself but action and there’s so much action that we can be taking to undo systemic racism and that’s everything from making sure there’s more economic justice, making sure the suburbs do their part with affordable housing, making sure our police department is more accountable.”

And while the declaration would have to go before the Board of Alders, Pastor Steele says this recognition should not and cannot be delayed.

He explained, “If we can send that sign and that message to all of New Haven that we will not tolerate racism of any form and if we see it, we are coming after it. We’re addressing it and shutting it down.”

Now Pastor Steele says he has been in contact with the mayor and the Board of Alders to put this declaration on the agenda at the next meeting. If approved, New Haven would join a number of Connecticut cities that have already declared racism a public health crisis.

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